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Best Books

Included on this page is a list of some of the best books I have had the pleasure of reading. There are few books here that are surprises – most have won awards, or are largely regarded as being classic novels. Nonetheless, I feel obliged to provide an outline of some of the standards that the books I read are up against. None of these books are flawless, though a few come very close. Each is unique for sure, but I imagine there are some pretty recognizable trends.

Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace was the first work by Margaret Atwood that I read. Indeed, I read it as a means of giving this goddess of Canadian Literature a chance. I was enthralled by what I discovered. A complex mystery of murder and recollection, of betrayal, of the hard lives of Irish immigrants and women in particular during the nineteenth century in Canada. And its presentation, as a mixture of letters and newspapers, was flawless. One of my highest recommendations – I farm this book out regularly, trying to get people who have never trusted Atwood because of her science fiction focus to give her a chance with historical realism.

The Picture of Dorian Grey – Oscar Wilde

Perhaps for others it happens frequently, but I’m not really a ‘classics’ kind of person – not in the sense that I actively tryto read all of the Jane Austen (though I loved Pride and Prejudice) or the Bronte sisters (though Jane Eyre was inches away from this list) or Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy. Instead I try and focus on the modern classics – for no real explicable reason. So when I started reading The Picture of Dorian Grey I was thoroughly unprepared. Nobody had ever told me anything about it, so it was kind of like watching a rose bloom for the first time without anybody telling you what the end result was. What proved to happen, with the destruction of humanity in the pursuit of vanity, amazed me. It was a gripping story, through and through. And it haunted me – it made me consider my own life and my own principles. If a piece of fiction can make you internalize ideas rather than criticize the outside world, you know that you’ve read something truly special.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

This post-apocalyptic novel was selected for one reason – apparently the author was quite talented. I purchased The Road weeks after having seen and been perplexed by No Country for Old Men; the explanation on the back cover was quite interesting, and it made it seem as though this book was accessible in some way (compared to McCarthy’s other novels). It was wrong – or, at least wrong for my reading abilities at the time. I was thrown for a loop for the first 30 pages. I read them three times before I really got settled with the voice. And then I sped through the rest of the novel, because what I read was stunning. The characters, a boy and his father. The plot, travelling across America in the hopes of finding something worth travelling for. The world, dangerous and terrifying. A father trying to shield the child, trying to travel, pretending so damned hard that there is something to look forward to at the end of the journey. And through the entire book there is not a single moment of happiness – no relief. Somehow, beautiful.

The Favourite Game – Leonard Cohen

The Favourite Game, one of Leonard Cohen’s two novels, is largely regarded as a Canadian Classic. I picked it up because my brother recommended it, and I loved it. The story centres around a Jewish boy named Lawrence Breavman who becomes a promising poet in Montreal (clearly this is semi-autobiographical, as Cohen himself is one of Canada’s poetic treasures). With the frank sexuality and the dependence on his closest friend that Breavman displays and the manipulation the results, tied in with Cohen’s masterful and sharp writing, I was enraptured with this book. Somehow it was presenting the story of modern day manliness for the Arts student. Engrossing.

Not Wanted on the Voyage – Timothy Findley

This is the book that started it all. I wanted to get back into reading in my second last year of University – I needed arefuge from textbooks and historical articles and searching in libraries and archives for that one extra document that would send my theories over the top and prove me right. It was Canada Reads season, so this book was displayed prominently at the front of the book store. I picked it up intrigued by the cover. Put it down and looked at the other options, and decided to leave the store with it. A re imagination of the story of Noah – told through a feminist perspective. And frighteningly violent. Death and destruction in the name of zeal, painting a picture of Noah and God that is certainly not admirable. With this novel Findley tossed me back into the reading ring while also grabbing hold of my imagination.

The Reader – Bernard Schlink

I had no idea what this book was going to be about when I picked it up. I knew there was a great film based on it that I wanted to see because it included Kate Winslet. So I bought it in passing, and started reading it, and was soon after completely caught off guard. Wait a moment… that fifteen year old is in love with that thirty-something woman? And then he is haunted by it, and then haunted by the crimes that she committed. This is not a story about the war, but rather a story about life in Germany after the war and the sense of guilt and complicity and conflict. What a fantastic novel.

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

This book rocked my world. I was in Norway visiting family, and was reading an edition from the 1970s. I didn’t really know what to expect – I just knew that I wanted to read the book before I watched the movie. And I couldn’t get away from the book once I opened it; it was graphic – I was walking the streets of Bergen picturing the setting. A story of the most ridiculous delinquency being corrected with classical conditioning and totally destroying the character of the man beneath. This novel, which could’ve been set in 1980s Britain with only a few minor changes of setting, became dystopian as you read it; an absolute classic of literature warning us of the means by which we pursue justice or alter those who’ve broken our social contract. Read it, be transported to a world and place all too similar to our own, and then be challenged. It will sit with you for long after you close it.

Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

I have written about this book several times on this blog. Perhaps more than any other book up to this point. It is aboutthe war – about the crimes committed against the Jews of Eastern Europe. It is about a fairy tale place that once existed and truly was just as mysterious as it comes out to be in the book. It is about a mixture of cultures and peoples, about an inability to communicate but the desire to make friendship anyways. About honesty and lies, mystery and truth and heritage. It amazed me. I read it an was broken apart several times. It is the only novel I have ever read where I read chapters over and over and over again before finishing the book – it is just that beautiful, and that worthy of being reflected upon. One of my highest recommendations – exalted even on this list of favourites.

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

It takes a lot of skill to make a universe inside of our own. Ultimately, it plays out like a cult that you don’t know is there. Sure, you hear some weird names – but what children don’t use weird words to describe things? They become slang, nicknames. Slowly, as you come-of-age with the characters of Ishiguro’s universe, you realize just how separated we are from the universe. And then, once you realize just what the universe, what the purpose of these children is, once you realize that they have hope and once you grasp onto that hope, you think ‘wow‘. Wow. The reveals that dot this book are masterful, and the story of relationships making and breaking themselves is powerful. I lent this book to my mom months ago – I doubt that she has read it, but I wish she would. It is phenomenal.

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